The Baltimore Ravens will try to take one step closer to reaching the playoffs when they play host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15. Game time is set for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 16, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Fans in certain markets will be able to watch the game on Fox.
Oddsmakers currently list the Ravens as 8-point favorites at home. The over/under for the game is set at 47 points. Be sure to check out a full list of this week’s NFL betting odds.
A week ago, the Ravens had a leg up on their competitors in the AFC wild-card race. However, after a heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs, Baltimore is now part of a four-way tie with the Titans, Colts, and Dolphins for the final wild-card spot. The good news is that the Ravens hold the tiebreaker in that four-way tie. Perhaps the better news is that Baltimore is just half a game behind the struggling Steelers in the AFC North, giving them more than one path to the postseason.
Of course, it’ll all come down to what Baltimore does during the final three weeks of the season. The Ravens have the benefit of playing two of their final three games at home. However, they also have to play away against the Chargers next week, making it crucial that they don’t slip up at home this week. They will also be playing those final three games with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The rookie will remain the starter despite Joe Flacco being cleared to play this week. The Ravens are officially Jackson’s team.
As for the Bucs, they are still clinging to the slightest of playoff hopes. With wins in two of their last three games, Tampa Bay sits at 5-8, which makes them mathematically alive with most of the other teams in the NFC wild-card race in the midst of self-destructing. If they can find a way to finish strong, the Bucs still have an outside chance to finish 8-8 and steal a playoff spot. They also have a chance to save the job of head coach Dirk Koetter, who remains on the hot seat.
Unfortunately, Tampa’s schedule late in the year doesn’t do them any favors. After traveling to Baltimore this week, the Bucs face an equally difficult road game against the Cowboys next week. If they can survive those two games, Tampa Bay will get a home game against the Falcons to close out the season. With those three games left on their schedule, the Bucs have a big mountain to climb if they hope to make a late-season playoff push.
On the surface, eating the points in this game seems like a sucker’s bet. I also think there’s definitely a path for the Bucs to keep this game close and have a chance to win. But I’ve been on Baltimore’s bandwagon most of the season and I’m not ready to jump off. The Ravens are far closer than Tampa to being a complete team, and I think at home they’ll win by double digits and cover the spread.
As a passer, Jackson has a lot of work left to do. But his mobility and skills as a runner make him a nightmare for opposing defenses. No team has managed to keep both Jackson and Gus Edwards contained, and that isn’t likely to change this week. The Tampa Bay defense has had problems against the run all season, so it’s tough to envision them being able to contain both Jackson and Edwards.
However, the biggest reason I like the Ravens to cover this game is their defense. Last week, the Ravens became just the third team this season to hold the Chiefs under 30 points, and that’s with an overtime period. Baltimore’s defense had some issues to work through during the middle of the season when they lost three games in a row. But the Ravens are once again looking like one of the better defensive teams in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Bucs remain a dangerous but largely one-dimensional offensive team. Jameis Winston has been Tampa’s leading rusher the past two weeks. Unlike Jackson with the Ravens, that’s not by design. The Bucs simply don’t have much of a running game, which makes it easier for teams to give their wide receivers extra attention.
The Tampa Bay offensive line has also been a problem area, giving up eight sacks over the last two weeks. That’s a weakness that the Baltimore defense is poised to expose. The Ravens have three different players with at least seven sacks on the season, so there are multiple pass rushers the Bucs have to watch. At their best, the Ravens excel at putting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. For Winston, that’s a recipe for errant throws and turnovers. Without a viable rushing game to keep Baltimore’s pass rush honest, there’s not much Tampa Bay can do to give Winston adequate protection.
Ultimately, I think the Bucs will struggle to sustain drives against Baltimore’s defense. Winston also won’t have the time he needs to take shots deep. If Tampa’s offense has an off day, it’s only a matter of time until Jackson, Edwards, and the Baltimore running game start to impose themselves on a porous Tampa Bay defense. That should enable the Ravens to build a comfortable lead and cover the spread.